This story was written by Alistair Skinner and appeared on the Sail World website.
Last Sunday 22 November, three Flying Tigers set sail from Qingdao Olympic Marina for what should have been a nice afternoon sail off the harbour. A number of factors, not least a frontal system arriving earlier and more fiercely than some weather websites had predicted, resulted in the fleet being scattered. A wind from the north at over 30 knots appeared from out of the blue around 1500hrs when some sites were predicting 18kts around 1700hrs. It was if someone had suddenly opened a door, so sudden was its arrival.
Radio broadcasts were also made to all shipping to keep a weather eye out for the missing 10m yacht and the search was coordinated from the Maritime Safety Agency (MSA) Control Room in Qingdao
One boat reacted quickly, dropped the headsail, reefed the main and headed back bare headed. The second had some gear issues but followed the first into the harbour shortly after, but the third for whatever reason couldn’t make a northing against the wind and the rapidly building sea and called for help but by this time they were being swept south at around 4-5knots and were already 6 miles offshore.
With the coastguard informed, they responded with at least two powerful cutters heading out tor sea in the gathering gloom and we watched as the searchlight swept the sea with the occasional flare being sent up to see if the casualty could see them. In short order the Chinese authorities had 16 ships officially involved in the search, and the seriousness and – most importantly – EFFECTIVE way in which they mobilized their resources should be congratulated and be given a most sincere vote of thanks from the lost sailors.
Radio broadcasts were also made to all shipping to keep a weather eye out for the missing 10m yacht and the search was coordinated from the Maritime Safety Agency (MSA) Control Room in Qingdao. The ships were spread out in a line and commenced a downwind search for the yacht and six missing sailors. Contact was made with a Chinese fishing boat at 0700 hrs on Monday morning at an almost unbelievable 60 nm south of Qingdao.
So a happy ending to an incident that could have had an entirely different outcome than 6 tired, cold and uncomfortable sailors. Of course there will be the inevitable enquiry, and there should be, just as there was after the much more serious events in the English Channel in 1979 and the Bass Strait in 1999. Without such, valuable lessons will be missed and the learning curve will not be climbed. Quick, do the maths – that’s an effective search area of around 1,500-2,000 square miles – what was that about a needle in a haystack?
Well done China Coastguard and China MSA!